“Understandable,” I said. “I brought my own pen.”
Coach Mayfield pushed a stack of papers across the desk and I began to sign. He picked up the phone. “Come on in now, Janice, and bring the stamp.”
When I was finished signing a page, Janice notarized it. By the time I was done, she’d notarized fourteen pages. The contract was, in its essence, quite simple—I agreed that I was working for the firm of Dufresne, Barrett and McGrath as an investigator on behalf of Taylor Biggins. In that capacity, anything Mr. Biggins said to me fell under attorney-client privilege. I could be charged, tried, and convicted if I ever discussed our conversation with anyone.
I rode out to the courthouse with Coach Mayfield. The sky had that milky blue cast it got sometimes before a nor’easter, but the air was mild. The town smelled of chimney smoke and wet asphalt.
The holding cells sat in the bowels of the courthouse. Coach Mayfield and I met Taylor Biggins on the other side of the bars, where the jailers had left a wooden bench for us.
“Yo, Coach,” Taylor Biggins said. He looked younger than twenty-two, a stringy black kid wearing an extra-large white T that draped his body like a dinner bell over a toothpick, and drooping jeans he kept pulling up over his bunched-up boxers, because they’d taken his belt.
“Bigs,” Coach Mayfield said and then to me: “Bigs played Pop Warner for me. Baseball and football.”
“And he can’t say nothing to nobody?”
“Not a word.”
“Throw his ass in a hole if he does?”
“Without a flashlight, Bigs.”
“A’ight, a’ight.” Bigs wandered around his cell for a minute, his thumbs hooked into his belt loops. “What you need to know?”
“Did someone pay you to kill the woman?” I asked.
“You heard me.”
Bigs cocked his head. “You saying, was I put up to this dumb shit?”
“Who the fuck would do what I did if they was thinking straight? I was high as a motherfucker, man. I been whaling on the clear for three days.”
“The clear,” Bigs said. “Meth, cheese, crank, whatever you want to call it.”
“Oh,” I said. “So why’d you shoot her?”
“I wasn’t trying to shoot nobody. Ain’t you been listening? She just wouldn’t give up the keys. When she grab my arm—pop. And she stop grabbing my arm. I just wanted to take her car. I got a friend, Edward, he buy cars. That’s all it was.”
He looked out through the bars at me, already heading down a dark corridor’s worth of DTs, his skin shiny with sweat, eyes wider than his head, mouth taking quick, desperate breaths.
“Walk me through it,” I said.
He gave me an injured, incredulous look, like I was putting him out.
“Hey, Bigs,” I said, “besides Coach here, you’ve got one of the best criminal defense lawyers in the country looking into your case because I asked him to. He’s capable of cutting your sentence in half. You understand?”
Bigs eventually nodded.
“So answer my questions, dickhead, or I’ll make him go away.”
He wrapped his arms around his abdomen and hissed several times. Once the cramps had subsided, he straightened and looked back through the bars at me. “Ain’t nothing to walk you through. I needed a car that’s easy to chop. A Honda or a Toyota, man. Those parts give for years—swap ’em out on a ’98 or an ’03, don’t matter. Shit’s interchangeable as a motherfuck. I’m in the parking lot, got me a black hoodie and these jeans, ain’t no one seeing me. She come out, go to the Accord. I run up, let her see my black face and my black nine? Should be enough. But she talks shit at me and she won’t let go them keys. She just keeps holding on, and then her hand slips and hits my arm? And, like I said, pop. She drops. I’m all, ‘Ho, shit!’ But I need my clear, so I grab the keys. I get in the car and punch it out of there but all these shields start blowing into the lot, cherry bars flashing. I didn’t even get a mile before they box my ass up.” He shrugged. “That’s it. Cold? I know it. If she’d just given up the keys, though . . .” He bit down on something and looked at the floor. When he looked back up, tears poured down his face.
I ignored them. “You said she talked shit. What’d she say?”
I came to the bars. I looked through them into his face. “What did she say?”
“Said she needed the car.” He looked down again and nodded several times to himself. “Said she needed that car. How’s anyone need a car that much?”
“You know any bus lines run at three in the morning, Bigs?”
He shook his head.
“The woman you killed? She worked two jobs. One in Lewiston, one in Auburn. Her shift in Lewiston ended half an hour before her shift in Auburn began. You seeing it now?”
He nodded, the tears coming off him in strings, shoulders quaking.
“Peri Pyper,” I said. “That was her name.”
He kept his head down.
I turned to Coach Mayfield. “I’m done.”
I stood by the door while Coach Mayfield conferred with his client for a few minutes, their voices never rising above whispers, and then he picked his briefcase up off the bench and headed toward me and the guard.
As the door opened, Bigs yelled, “It was just a fucking car.”
“Not to her.”
“I’m not going to give you a bunch of bleeding-heart bullshit about Bigs being a great kid and all,” Coach Mayfield said. “He was always high-strung, always shortsighted when it came to the big picture. Always had a hair-trigger temper and when he wanted something, he wanted it now. But he wasn’t this.” He waved out the window of his Chrysler 300 as we drove through the streets with their white-steeple churches, broad green commons, and quaint B&Bs. “You look behind the face this town puts up, you find a lot of cracks. Unemployment’s double-digits and those who are hiring ain’t paying shit. Benefits?” He laughed. “Not a chance. Insurance?” He shook his head. “All the stuff our fathers took for granted as long as you worked hard, the great safety net and the fair wage and the gold watch at the end of it all? That’s all gone around here, my friend.”
“Gone in Boston, too,” I said.